SANDY – Understanding where you come from is important because you can draw strength from the past, Manuel Romero believes. The son of parents who dropped out of school even before they entered high school, Romero can, through his mother Amelia’s Madrid line, trace his family back to the union of a Spanish conquistador and Aztec princess in the late 16th century. His Romero family also comes from Spanish, Mexican and Aztec roots, a lineage Romero unearthed through his own research.
Romero was the first of his family to graduate from college. He then went on to receive a master’s degree, and he has a long history of public service. He is one of the founders of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, and co-founder and past chairman of the University of Utah Chicano Scholarship Board of Trustees. He has taught at Salt Lake Community College, Westminster College and Northern New Mexico Community College. He has worked for the State of Utah, Salt Lake City, Midvale and other communities in various roles. He is also a recipient of the Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Commission Drum Major Award and the 2013 Cesar Chavez Peace & Justice Lifetime Achievement Award.
Nevertheless, Romero has often labored in an environment where he has been judged by the color of his skin and his last name. He was even slapped across the face in fifth grade for speaking Spanish at school. However, Romero has found validation as he has learned about the noble heritage he comes from. He credits much of his success to his parents and to that heritage and its traditions, from which he draws strength. He believes many Latinos today share a similar heritage. Although his parents often told him and his 13 brothers and sisters that their family came from Spain, it was only in recent years as he researched his family for a book he was writing that Romero discovered his pedigree.
Mi America: The Evolution of an American Family grew out of a request by a friend nearly seven years ago for Romero to write a magazine article about his five-year experience in Mexico as part of the Becas Para Aztlan scholarship program. Romero was supposed to write 20 pages; he wrote twice that.
“As I began to write, I found I just couldn’t talk about my experiences in Mexico without talking about how I got there,” he said.
The idea of writing a book had been percolating in his mind for years, Romero said. Mi America, which he self-published, is a family history that traces their journey from early New Mexico to modern-day Utah, but it is much more than that, he said.
“The story itself has not been told, at least not the way it’s written in the history books, so my book is about the whole experience of the settlement of New Mexico and how our family and others played a role in it,” he said. “It really is a story about the many of those people who first settled New Mexico, but it’s also a story of those people who ended up migrating to Utah” in the early to mid-20th century “and the fact that the vast majority brought their Catholic religion with them. It just increased by a huge margin the number of Catholics in Utah.”
Mi America traces Romero’s family roots from those early years in New Mexico. Along the way, it recounts much of the history of the peoples who have made that land their home in the subsequent centuries. When the family moves to Utah in the late 1950s, that account becomes more personal.
The Romero family’s ties to the Catholic Church run deep. All 14 of Rodolfo and Amelia’s children and all 45 of their grandchildren were baptized in the Church. Amelia served in her parish of St. Therese of the Child Jesus
for many years, running the parish thrift store. After the death of his wife, Rodolfo drew strength for more than a year from weekly gatherings where the family would say the rosary together.
Romero’s discovery of his roots has meant a great deal to him.
“For me personally it has been an inspiration,” he said. “It has been an epiphany because I just learned more and more.”
His book and the emergence of accessible DNA information has inspired a thirst among his younger relatives, including his daughter Sonia, to find out more about their heritage, he said. It has also encouraged relatives and acquaintances to share more stories about his family.
“I’m beginning to see people who had no interest now have a huge interest in who they are, where they come from,” he said. “They’re finding there’s so much information out there.”
In addition to publishing his book, Romero regularly posts genealogy information on his Facebook and Instagram pages. He recently began a weekly video series on Facebook called Manuel Mondays where he shares family stories that did not make it into Mi America.
More information about Romero and his book can be found at miamerica2020.com.